Photography

2015 Retrospective

I almost did not write this post. My 2015 is actually just a “first 6 months of 2015.” Photography is (and remains) a passion but- it is not a “be all, end all.” I ended up taking a sabbatical from photography starting in June to focus on a variety of home repairs/remodeling work that became a high priority for me in my life. The extended break has actually been liberating and refreshing. I also didn’t feel that bad about it because the Pacific Northwest just came off a huge below average winter and right into a drought over the summer. Wildflower season was well over by the time July appeared. I didn’t miss anything.

Anyways, back to this concept/idea of “Best of” or Year in Review blog posts. What’s the point of these things? I won’t go all Guy Tal on you about it but let’s be frank- to a large degree, it’s about a desire for “exposure,” or validation for what we’re doing. Many photographers craft these posts and submit them to be included in Jim Goldstein’s annual “Best of ” compilation. Hell- I’ve done it for a number of years and I’ll admit that initially it was in large part due to the flood of visitation that happens once Jim’s post goes public and is reshared broadly across the internet. The lure of gaining new followers is strong when you’re just beginning to establish yourself. These days, however, I’m not concerned or obsessed with that side of the equation. My photography is what it is. And I’m ok with that.

Meh- now I’m starting to ramble. Anyways, looking back on my year, there’s obviously not a lot to draw from but I am excited that timing and conditions finally came together and allowed me to photograph the Aurora Borealis over the North Cascades (something I’ve tried in vain for years to do) and I also started working on a video project I’ve been thinking about.. So, in no particular order, here are my personal favorites:

1.) Falling Behind – Mount Baker Wilderness

Falling Behind - Mount Baker Wilderness

I shared this photo on 500px when I still had an account but never made it into a blog post. When you can visit this location relatively easily in winter, there’s a problem. Our massive lack of snowfall last winter facilitated access to Boulder Ridge on Mount Baker. This conversion to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

2.) Heybrook Ridge – Skykomish River Valley

Heybrook Ridge - Skykomish River Valley

One spring morning, I was on my way to Leavenworth to photograph the spring wildflowers when I came across these clearing clouds just east of Index, Washington. I was shooting almost into the sun so converting to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Winter Green – Mount Rainier National Park

Winter Green - Mount Rainier National Park

Every year during the winter I visit Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park and I always seem to come away with a photo that I love. This one is along the trail just prior to reaching Ranger Falls.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Mount Shuksan & Aurora – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Mount Shuksan & Aurora - Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

A photo I’ve visualized and wanted for several years. Everything came together just a few days after the summer equinox.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Deep Forest – Clackamas River Wilderness

Deep Forest - Clackamas River Wilderness

A photo from my first visit to a beautiful grove of old growth forest in the upper Clackamas River drainage. I only learned of this place literally two weeks before my trip. I can’t wait to go back.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Salmon River – Salmon River Valley

Salmon River - Salmon River Valley

Visiting the Salmon River during my spring trip south to Mount Hood and the Gorge has quickly become a tradition an mandatory. This day I spent nearly 4 hours along the river and only hiked a mile, at best. It’s just that good.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Picture Lake Stars – Heather Meadows

Picture Lake Stars - Heather Meadows

This is a photo I actually never shared. It was from a failed outing so I never got around to a blog post about it. This is a snow and ice free Picture Lake on a New Moon winter’s night. I loved the reflection of all the stars on the water’s surface. I took this using the new Sigma f1.8 18-35mm lens.

8.) Tye Spring Snow – Tye River Valley

Tye Spring Snow - Tye River Valley

This photo was also taken on my way over the Cascades to Leavenworth this spring. The fresh snow up and down the Tye River valley and hint of blue sky was too good to pass up.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Corydalis Sea – Salmon River Valley

Corydalis Sea - Salmon River Valley

I really love this photo, as well as the challenge to take it, but that isn’t immediately apparent. This sea of Scouler’s Corydalis covers a wide area (each individual plant is about 4-5′ tall and several feet wide). The trail here was slightly above the plants but I had to hand hold my camera’s tripod above me like a color guard member would hold a flag during a procession. A lot of trial and error using the time function on the camera.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Spring Tidings – Leavenworth, Washington

Spring Tidings - Leavenworth, Washington

Spring wildflowers at a quiet spot I know about. Hopefully it stays this way for many years to come..

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

So there ya have it. 2016 is already here. I don’t know what will happen but I’m really looking forward to getting back to the photography I know and love.

Goodbye 2014

2014 is nearly in the books and I, for one, say good riddance. It was a year largely full of other commitments and little photography. I photographed sunrise on New Years Day and promptly broke the zoom ring on one of my lenses. Five months later, I dunked all of my gear in a river. Thankfully, most of the gear survived after a week of drying in a bag of rice but I did end up replacing one zoom lens with a new (used) copy and repairing my New Years Day lens a second time. My photography largely consisted of a week long trip to South Florida’s Gulf Coast during July 4th and a few day trips on either side of that. Despite the challenges of the past year, I have selected ten photos to highlight my year:

1.) The Storm – Sanibel Island, Florida
The Storm - Sanibel Island, Florida
Storm clouds are probably somewhat fitting given my year. Taken during my week long stay on Sanibel Island, Florida, these storm clouds developed during sunrise towards the end of my trip. Gotta love the short walk from the rented guesthouse to the beach!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) The Hills Are Alive – Leavenworth, Washington State
The Hills Are Alive - Leavenworth, Washington State
One of my regular outings during spring is a trip over the mountains to the Leavenworth area to photograph the balsamroot flower displays. This year, I timed the trip perfectly to explore a new location. An entire hillside of blooming flowers all to myself!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Worth the Wait – Glacier Peak Wilderness
Worth the Wait - Glacier Peak Wilderness

My most recent outing which holds some special significance to me. This photo marks my return to Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. This location has largely been inaccessible for the last decade due to flood damage to the primary access road. Green Mountain was one of the first locations that I was taken to by friends once I moved up to Washington State. Once the road was finally repaired, I had to visit this place once again. Just visiting once again would have been enough but the sunset on this day turned out to be pretty spectacular.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Sanibel Storm – Sanibel Island, Florida
Sanibel Storm - Sanibel Island, Florida

During my visit to Florida, I got to experience several nights of “heat lightning.” The heat and humidity of the daylight hours turns into lightning offshore during the overnight hours. It was quite mesmerizing standing on the beach watching the constant lightning strikes. Thankfully, I was never in any danger while outside photographing it. I’ve only tried photographing lightning once before so I got plenty of practice!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Gotcha – J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Gotcha - J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge

I’m not much of a wildlife photographer but love to photograph it given the opportunity. During my trip to Florida, the J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge was just five minutes away from where we were staying. I only was able to make two trips to the refuge but enjoyed the time.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Stranglehold – Big Cypress National Preserve
Stranglehold - Big Cypress National Preserve

For our trip to Florida, We actually flew in and out of Fort Lauderdale and doubled back via car to Sanibel Island. Rather than take the quicker I-75, we opted for US-41 which took us through Big Cypress National Preserve. This Strangler Fig caught my eye during our quick stop at Kirby Storter Roadside Park.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Aurora Not-at-all-us – Mount Baker
Aurora Not-at-all-us - Mount Baker

At the end of this past summer, a promising aurora alert was issued after a solar flare and, for once, it coincided with clear skies. I staked it out for two nights but alas, the auroras never came. I was left with a few nice nighttime photos of Mount Baker and a couple newly scouted locations.

8.) Origins – Sanibel Island, Florida
Origins - Sanibel Island, Florida

This photo was taken in the pre-dawn minutes the same morning as photo #1. The heat lightning from the previous night was finally dying down but not before a few more strikes during the advancing light of the new day.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Supermoon Reflection – Heather Meadows
Supermoon Reflection - Heather Meadows

I swore I would never photograph Mount Shuksan from Picture Lake. The scene is SO tired and has been photographed to death. As it turned out, I stopped by the lake on a whim suggestion by my friend after we had photographed the super moon’s rise at sunset. No one was present and the mist rising off the lake provided the qualities I was seeking to set my photo apart from the thousands (if not millions) of other Picture Lake photos.

10.) Lava Lamp – Baring Mountain
Lava Lamp - Baring Mountain

This photo is just one photo from a series taken during a spectacular sunrise this fall. It was actually the culmination of repeated sunrise attempts at this particular location. The vindication was especially satisfying!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

So there are my ten photos. I also continued my tradition throughout the year of shooting time lapses with my GoPro camera. Here’s a recap video I put together from my Florida trip:

Florida Gulf Coast – July 2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Florida Skies

Dramatic clouds after sunrise, Sanibel Island, Florida
Sunset from Turner Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
To close out my small series of blog posts about my trip to Florida, I’ve saved what might be the best for last- those Florida skies. I don’t want to say that I took it as a given that there would be some great sunsets and sunrises during our stay but- I kinda did. We’d be staying on Sanibel Island’s Gulf side which faces west so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, right? Err- sort of.

What I ended up learning during my week there was that sunrises and sunsets had different challenges. Sanibel Island (and Captiva Island which is connected by a small bridge) is shaped like a banana. Our lodging for the week was the Island Inn (which I cannot recommend highly enough) and it faces almost due south. This small point was driven home during our first afternoon when the setting sun went down directly over the beach on our right side. Sanibel Island is a popular tourist destination so I wanted to minimize my chances of people appearing in my compositions and this meant I would have to figure out some alternate locations for sunsets.
Sunset from Captiva Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Clouds, Stars, Lightning, and the Milky Way, Sanibel Island, Florida
Sunrise over San Carlos Bay from Lighthouse Beach Park, Sanibel Island, Florida
Sunsets
The biggest challenge with shooting sunsets from Sanibel Island is going to be that, for the majority of the beaches, the sun sets directly above the shore break. On a tourist heavy location like Sanibel, this means that you’re going to have people in your compositions. In order to have photos with the sun setting over the Gulf, you’ll need to head north to Sanibel Island where the beaches have more of a western aspect. On one particular afternoon, there weren’t any good clouds to the west but there was a huge thunderhead towards the south out over the Gulf. If you find yourself in similar conditions, consider heading to the south end of Sanibel Island to the Lighthouse Beach Park. I was able to photograph the thunderhead with side lighting from sunset and this worked out quite well. There’s potentially another option but I don’t have experience with it. I’ve seen some nice “sunset” photos taken within Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The problem is that the refuge closes a half hour before sunset so I don’t know feasible this is.

Sunrises
This is more problematic than sunsets. Unless you’re staying someplace on the bay side of the island, public access to the bay side is pretty limited. Ding Darling would be nice for sunrise but it doesn’t open until after actual sunrise. The sure shot is to photograph the western beaches and just enjoy the backlight that any offshore clouds would embrace. The previously mentioned Lighthouse Beach Park provided the best bay side waterfront access I could muster during my week there. There is some driftwood present that can provide foreground interest along with some living trees/shrubs. The view back across San Carlos Bay is pretty open with only a faint display of development (2 or 3 high rises). The biggest downside to this location were the people collecting seashells. Despite the early hour there was a steady stream of people and they didn’t really care about photographers set up & taking photographs.
Sunset from Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Setting sun from Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Thunderhead over the Gulf of Mexico, Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
All that being said, here’s my quick rundown on the various locations I utilized:

  • Lighthouse Beach Park-
  • Pros: Good for sunrise; good for certain sunsets (storm clouds over Gulf); plenty of parking; not as crowded
  • Cons: Sea shell hunters numerous and oblivious/uncaring about photographers
  • Bowman’s Beach Park-
  • Pros: Lots of Parking; 4 miles of beach so lots of opportunities; Easy to loose the majority of people with a short hike up the beach; located at start of island’s aspect change to due west
  • Cons: Still faces a little too much towards the southwest; tire tracks in beach sand (from sea turtle monitoring 4WD vehicles)
  • Turner Beach-
  • Pros: Westernmost- facing aspect for Sanibel Island proper; short hike north to lose the sunset crowds
  • Cons: Limited parking on either side of bridge; lots of people immediately on either side of Blind Pass
  • Captiva Beach (Captiva Island)
  • Pros: Westernmost facing aspect that you can get on Sanibel/Captiva Island
  • Cons: Lots of people near parking lot so short hike south needed to find a thinner spot along the beach; potential for people walking through your frame; parking limited

Sunrise over San Carlos Bay from Lighthouse Beach Park, Sanibel Island, Florida
Thunderhead over the Gulf of Mexico at sunset, Lighthouse Beach Park, Sanibel Island, Florida
Thunderhead over the Gulf of Mexico at sunset, Lighthouse Beach Park, Sanibel Island, Florida
If all of that isn’t enough to keep you busy, there is also the opportunity for some storm photography! The high humidity of Florida generates afternoon thunderstorms and something called heat lightning. Several evenings, after 10pm, I noticed regular flashes of lightning out over the Gulf. I spent about an hour each of these evenings photographing the stars, lighting, and the Gulf. I was skeptical that I would be able to see the Milky Way given all the development up and down the Gulf Coast but I was successful! Except for the bites from sand fleas, I could have sat there for hours watching the lightning and listening to the waves lapping the shore.

As I learned, the trick was to get into rhythm with the lightning. Once you’re in sync with the lightning’s timing, you’ll start getting a lot of photos with lighting. Once you’re set up, wait for the first lightning strike. After it flashes, wait another 2-3 seconds and then click the shutter for a long exposure. This should get you in sync with the lightning. You always won’t be so lucky, though. During my sunset shoot at Lighthouse Beach Park, the thunderhead over the Gulf also had lightning striking the water for over a half hour. Despite my best attempts, neither my SLR or my GoPro shooting a time lapse could successfully capture any of the strikes. That was very, very frustrating!
Heat lightning over the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island, Florida
Heat lightning at dawn over the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island, Florida
Dramatic morning clouds over the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island, Florida
Heat lightning at dusk over the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island, Florida
Heat lightning over the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island, Florida
That pretty much wraps up my trip to Florida. I didn’t know what to expect and, although I certainly felt flustered and overwhelmed at times, the trip and opportunities far exceeded any expectations I had. Finally, I’ll leave you with this compilation of the various time lapses I shot during my various sunrise & sunset sessions. Enjoy!

Florida Gulf Coast – July 2014 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Florida’s Natural World

Pond Cypress forest scene at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
It’s hard to deny the importance of Florida’s landscape on a global scale. Thirty percent of all bird species found in North America have been sighted passing through the greater Sanibel Island area. The same conditions that attract all those birds also attracts another species- humans. Typically, when nature and humans compete for the same land, humans typically win. Sanibel Island, however, bucks that trend and did so long before conservation came to mainstream America. If you’re not familiar with the development history of Sanibel / Captiva Islands, it is well summarized in the nature guidebook Living Sanibel. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located in nearby Collier County, is about 29 miles to the southeast of Sanibel Island and is HUGE- nearly 13,000 acres in size. Nearly half of that acreage had been already preserved by 1955, and the rest followed in the subsequent years.

Unlike the Ding Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is privately owned and managed by the National Audubon Society. From the visitor’s center, just over 2 miles of elevated boardwalk trail traverse through five different “ecosystems”: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, Pond cypress, Bald cypress, and the central marsh. Our visit in July was outside of any “peak” visitation by migrating birds but don’t let something like that from deterring you from visiting. We were not able to visit the sanctuary first thing in the morning so we saw less wildlife than we might have otherwise. The afternoon thunderstorms were beginning to establish and the combination of the sounds of distant thunder and insects in the wet prairie were very peaceful and mesmerizing.
Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
Barred Owl (Strix varia) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
The swampy landscape and “tropical” nature of the plants were very foreign to my familiar surroundings back in the Pacific Northwest. The land is very intricate & complex and that makes it quite difficult to pre-visualize compositions. Now add 85% humidity, 90° F temperatures, and mosquitoes and you have a struggle on your hands. I gambled on just using a monopod and, in a situation like the swamp where I wanted to also incorporate some landscape photography, I didn’t do so well. A traditional tripod support would have improved the quality of some of my opportunities. The beauty of the surroundings was obvious and I appreciated it; I just had trouble capturing it. I think the key to recognize it, admit it, and move on. I can always make a return visit so it’s not worth ruining one’s enjoyment in the moment.

The “noise” which made it hard for me to make sense of everything also enabled me to walk right past a Barred Owl just mere feet away from the boardwalk! Thankfully, the people I was with made sure I was aware of it on the return trip back to the visitors center. The owl seemed fine with the attention and didn’t show any signs of uncomfort at my presence. I still gave it space and used the length of my 500mm lens to bridge the gap. I was able to photograph the owl for several minutes before I needed to catch up with my group. During our brief stay, we barely scratched the surface of what Corkscrew has to offer; I hoped to make a second visit during our stay (the entrance fees are good for 2 consecutive days) but that did not work out. I will have to make another visit in the future.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) & crab, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Back on Sanibel Island, the heart of the island’s natural world is the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. While it’s not as big as Corkscrew, it’s still over 6,400 acres in size (2,800 of which are federally designated wilderness). The majority of this land is on Sanibel’s bay side and it’s focal point is the 4 mile long one-way road which traverses through some of those lands. The road makes its way through the mangrove forest which is broken up by several large expanses shallow water that the road bisects. I made two visits to the refuge on the same day- once at late morning and then later in the day around 4pm.

The noon visit was very quiet, except for the noseeums (or sand fleas) which attacked me voraciously. A local photographer whom I had met earlier at sunrise warned me about them but they focused their attack on whatever skin that was left exposed. This was not fun! I would echo the photographer’s recommendation of long sleeves & long pants but would add some DEET or other bug spray to help ward off these relentless foes. I was advised to either visit the refuge before 10am or after 4pm and that seemed to ring true. At midday, the refuge was pretty quiet and most wildlife is off somewhere else. Despite this fact, I still managed to quickly see an alligator, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and a little later, a Snowy Egret up close.
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) pursuing a Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) and prey, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
A bit dejected, I returned to where we were staying for the week to relax and wait for the late afternoon. Sure enough, my return visit in the late afternoon was a different story. Maybe it was the DEET but the noseeums weren’t eating me alive which allowed me to relax a bit more and focus on photography. The water levels were lower and the birds were more active and closer in than before. I was able to enjoy the hunting ritual of the Reddish Egret as well as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron & Little Blue Heron. I eventually developed a shadow- another wildlife photographer with a 3 foot long prime lens of undetermined length. I’d stop- he’d stop. I’d pass him, he’d pass me and so on and so on.

If I saw him stopped, it was a pretty good sign that something was nearby. Towards the end of the wildlife drive, I came upon his parked car and the photographer was behind the opened hatch of his SUV and he was pointing his mighty lens up the road. I creeped a little forward in my car and finally saw what he was photographing- a river otter. The otter was on the road, drinking from a rain puddle. I immediately parked and tried to get out & access my camera from the trunk from my rental car as quickly (and silently) as possible. About the moment I turned the lens towards the otter ahead of us, another car pulled up behind me. It paused for a few seconds, and then proceeded to drive past us towards the otter. As you can guess, this spooked the otter which ran off into the brush. A huge missed opportunity!

I only got a brief glimpse at what this area has to offer. I can only imagine what the area is like during the height of spring migrations. A trip earlier in the year would yield far great opportunities and that’s something I would like pursue in the future.
Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) and reflection, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and reflection, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Juvenile Heron and crab, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Leavenworth 2014

After a five month photo hiatus, I’ve returned! Spring has returned to the Pacific Northwest and the east slopes of the Cascade range are the first areas to have wildflower displays. I’ve made a trip to the Leavenworth area for the balsamroot blooms an annual occurrence but the timing for this can vary wildly from year to year. Last year, I visited around April 20th and conditions were virtually peak but several years ago, May 15th was the timeframe for peak conditions. This year’s peak blooms probably occurred around April 30th but MANY flowers were in prime conditions during my visit on May 3rd.

The balsamroot flowers in Tumwater Canyon and at Leavenworth Ski Hill (and the adjacent trails) all looked good. I normally would also visit Ollala Canyon near Cashmere but did not this year. A friend of mine did visit the previous weekend and conditions looked to be good out there as well. This year, I wanted to photograph something different. I decided to re-visit a location up Eagle Creek Road that proved to be fruitless last year- East Van Creek. It’s a location I found using Google Earth and looked to have the same type of conditions where the balsamroot flowers normally are found.

I was excited to see that this year, the flowers were out and numerous. A short but steep 300 foot ascent up a slope brought me up to a six acre meadow of balsamroot. To the southwest, Canon Mountain peaked over an intermediate ridge. To my southeast, the summit of Chumstick Mountain was visible. The area retains a natural look despite having been logged at some point in the past. To have this flower meadow all to myself for hours was spectacular. The meadow was pretty much all balsamroot but there were patches of lupine including one white lupine (the second I’ve ever seen in 15 years of wandering in the Cascades).
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and log, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and rare white lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.

2013 in Review

Where have the last 12 months gone? 2014 is almost here and I’m a little behind with my year-end retrospective! Over the last 12 months, I didn’t get out quite as much as in previous years as I had to strike more of a balance between photography and the rest of life. That being said, I’m very happy that I was able to incorporate several “firsts” for me. Towards the beginning of 2013, I finally bought a GoPro video camera. I originally bought it for shooting video while snowboarding but I’ve come to REALLY enjoy using it to capture time lapse sequences while out on my traditional photo outings. It’s simple but quite capable and the camera & mini-tripod don’t add much weight to my regular pack. Now I always have my GoPro with me!

Outside of the addition of a GoPro, my other notable achievement was a series of “first” visits. After wishing and thinking about it for a number of years, I finally was able to visit the Tapto Lakes basin and Whatcom Pass deep in North Cascades National Park. I also was able to visit a series of new locations during my annual spring trip to the Columbia River Gorge and greater Mount Hood area. Among my highlights there was my first visit ever to Panther Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Gorge. I also finally made a trip to Mount Saint Helens (my first visit back to the blast zone since moving to Washington in 1999). Lastly, I visited Mount Hood for peak wildflower blooms instead of the usual trek to Paradise at Mount Rainier.

Without further ado, here are the ten photos I’ve selected for 2013:

1.) Coleman Pinnacle – Mount Baker Wilderness

Coleman Pinnacle - Mount Baker Wilderness
Without a doubt, this is my favorite photo from this past year. Even with a telephoto lens, this was a challenging photo since I was looking into the sun. Converting the photo to black & white was a no brainer decision and I’m very pleased with out this turned out.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) New Year’s Sunset 01 – Mount Baker Wilderness

New Year's Sunset 01 - Mount Baker Wilderness
For the first day of 2013, I made the snowshoe hike out to Artist Point on the north side of Mount Baker. I had high hopes for sunset which seemed all but dashed until about 10 minutes after sunset when things got really interesting. One of the great solitary moments for me during the past year.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Symmetry – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Symmetry - Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

This photo was taken during my first of two visits to Cayada Mountain which is located just outside the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. This visit was in late spring when we could drive fairly close to Coplay Lake despite the lingering winter snowpack. The lake has a series of snags out in the open water and the calm water & wind contributed to ideal conditions for this mirror reflection.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about Cayada Mountain so look for it (and more photos) in the future.

4.) Oxalis Carpet – Mount Hood National Forest

Oxalis Carpet - Mount Hood National Forest

This was a macro type photograph that I took along the Clackamas River Trail in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. This particular stretch of trail travels through a wonderful section of Old Growth forest. I really loved the “swoosh” lines that the oxalis provided.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Panther Falls – Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

Panther Falls - Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

My first ever visit to Panther Creek Falls in southern Washington. Photos can’t do justice to the size and beauty of this waterfall! The scramble down to this particular vantage point was a little too exciting (I actually turned back once) but I’m really happy with the photo I was able to capture.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Sunset in Paradise Park – Mount Hood Wilderness

Sunset in Paradise Park - Mount Hood Wilderness

Another first- a trip to the wildflower meadows of Paradise Park on Mount Hood. I was rushed and not as familiar with the location so I hunkered down in the first meadow (which was fantastic). The best views were back towards the west like in this photo. I will definitely be back here!

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Bear Mountain – Wild Sky Wilderness

Bear Mountain - Wild Sky Wilderness

The Wild Sky Wilderness is only a few years old and lives up to its name since there are virtually no trails into the wilderness at this time. I wanted to start capturing some of its beauty before the trail network starts to appear so this was my first attempt. This was worth the wasp sting I received while ascending to this prominent point.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

8.) The Darkest Dark – North Cascades National Park

The Darkest Dark - North Cascades National Park

This trip was a long time coming and I was determined to make it happen this year. The old photos of Mount Challenger by Bob & Ira Spring and Harvey Manning have been an obsession for quite a while and the reality lived up to the billing! The sky at night in this remote portion of North Cascades National Park were very dark and the star show was amazing as this photo of Mount Challenger will attest. This backpacking trip was memorable for many reasons.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Salmon Season – North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Salmon Season - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

I continue to experiment with my poor man’s underwater housing- a 10 gallon aquarium. The more I get to work with it, the better I feel I’m getting. This particular photo was from a short but productive session this fall.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Christmas Tree – Mount Rainier National Park

Christmas Tree - Mount Rainier National Park

Being in a forest during a light snowfall is a very calming experience. This particular scene presented itself on my hike out from Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. This lightly flocked tree in particular stood out to me.

I still haven’t completed my writeup about this particular trip so look for it (and more photos) in the future.


It’s always difficult to narrow down a list of ten photos from a potential pool of hundreds but that’s my list. For more photos from my 2013, I’ve put together a slideshow video:

Thanks for reading, watching, and all your support in 2013!

Pink Salmon

Fall colors are an obvious sign of fall but the return of spawning salmon is also a tall tale sign of fall. Based on a tip, I made my first visit of the season up the North Fork Skykomish River outside of Index to photograph the salmon. I’ve outlined my idea and process of photographing salmon in a previous blog post (which you can read here) and I think I get better each successive time. Mostly because I learn something new each time. On my last outing, I learned that I didn’t have enough counter weights to combat the ballast that the tank has in the water. On this attempt, I learned that prolonged time in the water will produce condensation on the inside of the tank’s glass. I’ve read that applying some Rain-X might help with the condensation so I’m going to try that next time (which will hopefully be next weekend).

Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington
Returning salmon along a side channel of the North Fork Skykomish River near Index, Washington

Return to Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens was the last stop on my recent trip south to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Any longtime reader of my blog will know that I have a special reverence for Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park but Mount Saint Helens is the true reason that I eventually moved to the Pacific Northwest. Back in college, I really became intrigued by the eruption and subsequent recovery of the landscape following the event. I studied geography in college with an emphasis in computer mapping and remote sensing. At that time, no one had done an analysis of the recovery using remote sensing (basically an analysis using satellite imagery) and this really surprised me given the 20 year plus archive of imagery at that time. Anyways, it was this seed that actually encourage my first ever visit to the northwest.

Although I’ve climbed the mountain from the south side several times since moving up here in 1999, my last visit to the blast area was in 1997 or 1998. I was definitely overdue for a return visit! What I decided to do was head to Johnston Ridge for sunset, hang out overnight for some star photography and then shoot sunrise before finally heading home. I still had an entire day to get to Johnston Ridge so I made another trip up the Lewis River drainage to explore a little more. The initial weather was pretty good for stream and waterfall photography with mostly cloudy skies and nice, even light. Far too quickly, however, it changed to mostly and completely sunny skies. On my way up the valley, I stopped off near the Ape Caves and visited the Trail of Two Forests interpretive trail. I almost visited it last year while up in this area but a busload of school kids at the site kept me going. On this day, I had the area to myself.
Lava tube, Trail of Two Forests, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Forest Floor, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Forest Floor, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
The trail is a small, 1/4 mile boardwalk trail with several interpretive signs pointing out several volcanic features from a previous lava flow event such as lava tubes, log dams, and tree molds where the base of trees used to be (before being burned by the lava). It was a nice spot to explore and I did manage to come away with this shot of one of the lava tube openings. After completing the trail, I headed further up the Lewis valley making several stops to poke around. The forest floors here are rich with vanilla leaf and I’m a sucker for trying to capture a representative scene of this. Today was no exception…

The bright sun made it painfully obvious that I wouldn’t be photographing much else of what I had hoped to. I turned around and began my drive back to I-5 to make my way to Johnston Ridge. Just before you reach the Volcanic Monument, you pass Weyerhaeuser’s Forest Learning Center perched atop a cliff overlooking the Toutle River valley with the mountain in the distance. It’s free and does have some nice views so it’s worth a stop at least once. Keep in mind they are a commercial logging company so the center is a bit of a “hooray for us” PR piece where they strongly tout their reforestation efforts. While they are impressive, monolithic stands of Noble Firs doesn’t necessary qualify as “recovery” from an ecosystem perspective and takes on a somewhat Children of the Corn appearance (in other words, eerie).
Barred Owl (Strix varia) in the Lewis River Valley, Gifford-Pinchot National Forest
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
As I approached Coldwater Lake, I was greeted by an intersection with my travel direction blocked by a manned and closed gate. I did not remember this from my last visit so I pulled over to go talk with the Forest Service employee. After setting me straight with directions, I was asking him about my intended plans for the evening. I was informed that, although they do not close a nightly gate, the Johnston Ridge area is closed to the public from 9pm to 7am. So much for my night and sunrise plans! Sunset on this evening was literally minutes before 9pm and that pretty much restricted my options for sunset. From the Visitor Center, I walked west and found one spot with some wildflowers in the foreground. I had some time to work with so I headed east from to see what other options there may be. I didn’t want to go too far east because parts of the ridge would begin to block some parts of the Plains of Abraham. I eventually found another spot with some Indian Paintbrush in bloom and set up my camera as well as my GoPro for a timelapse.

I started my timelapse and sat down to watch sunset. Things were looking good- stringy, wispy clouds were scattered across the sky. About a half hour before sunset, those wispy clouds had been pushed further east and I wasn’t left with much. The light on Mount Saint Helens just smoothly changed from white to yellow to orange to pink without much fanfare. The time of sunset arrived and I technically had just minutes to be back at my truck and leave. I forced myself to stop my timelapse and quickly packed up my gear for the hurry hike back to the parking lot. There was a slight rebound in the light and it killed me that I couldn’t really stop and photograph it (or capture it with my timelapse). At one point on my way back, I had a view down at the parking lot and my truck was the only car in a lot that held hundreds of cars. Today, I would be the last person to leave Johnston Ridge. Before I did, however, I enjoyed the silence a little bit longer. I expected to see a Forest Service employee sweeping the area clear but that didn’t happen. I really wanted to stay but…I left.
Mount Saint Helens from Johnston Ridge, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
But where to go for my night and sunrise plans? Weighing my options, I made my way back to the Castle Lake Viewpoint. I arrived to an empty parking lot (and it would stay empty overnight and through sunrise). Now it was a matter of waiting for it to get dark and for the stars to come out. At 10:30-11pm, it was finally dark enough to start experimenting. Ideally, I was looking to take a photo with the Milky Way arching above the mountain but that looked to be hours away. Several sequences in, I attracted a visitor. Although I never saw it, the yelp from a (presumed) coyote kept sounding off in the darkness off to my right. At one point, the yelps suddenly were off to my left. All right, I admit- this was a bit freaky. About a half hour after my visitor made its vocal appearance, high clouds really started to roll in from the west. Soon enough, I lost any chance to take more star shots. I took that as my cue and hunkered down in my truck for a cat nap.

To my surprise, I got about 4 hours of sleep and woke up at about 3:30am to a crescent moon which had risen. I could see my surroundings better and could also see that those high clouds were still around. To the east, however, was a nice sized clear window. I really was hoping that the sunlight would flood through and reflect off of the cloud ceiling. For ONCE I was ready and in position! Once again, I started my GoPro and waited for the light show. And waited. And waited some more. Still waiting. Oh- it tried! I could see a faint show of color immediately near the horizon but not the explosion I was so eagerly awaiting. I held out hope but no dice. Once it officially was sunrise, I waited just a little longer to make sure I was shut out. I was- but there was a subtle surge of orange color. I set back up and focused on the mountain where the color was a contrast to some brooding clouds behind and to the east of the mountain.

Mount Saint Helens and night glow from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens as sunrise approaches from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
So now it was finally time to head home. Hold on- why did that car stop? As I scanned the slopes below where the car stopped, I finally saw what they were looking at: a herd of elk heading down to the Toutle River valley. Comically, I run and get my camera & telephoto lens and set up again. My telephoto lens at 300mm was still a bit too far but you work with what you have. I was fortunate enough to capture a sequence of some playful sparring between a couple of young elk. Ok, now I’m REALLY leaving! A few hours later I was back in the Puget Sound and back on the grid. My phone was catching up with all its notifications and one of them was a message from a friend from the previous night. The message I didn’t get was an alert to look for the auroras. So- while I was enjoyed cloudy skies, the auroras were out and being photographed by people as far south as Crater Lake in Oregon. Perfect. My luck sometimes….
Mount Saint Helens from the Castle Lake Viewpoint, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Young elk sparring, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

April Leftovers

I built up a little backlog during the month of April so here’s a quick hit series of photos.
Big Four Mountain
Big Four Mountain detail
Sunny spring day and Big Four Mountain
Skykomish River Valley near Sultan
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Cumulus clouds over the summit of Mount Pilchuck
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Mount Pilchuck summit detail
High above the Skykomish River valley near Sultan
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Sunset from Monroe
Storm clouds over Mount Pilchuck from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Full moon rising above Haystack Mountain
West Face of Vesper Peak (L), Glacier Peak (C), and Morning Star Peak (R) from Monroe, Washington
Mount Baker Ski Area Vicinity
Spring melt along Razor Hone Creek
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
I also made this timelapse from my lofty perch above the Skykomish River valley:

Narrow your focus

I visited Artist Point and Huntoon Point this weekend but was shut out by the weather yet again. Since I have no photos to share, I decided to write this post which I’ve thought about for a little while now. One bit of photographic advice that you’ll hear about in landscape photography is shooting with a telephoto lens. Basically, you’re focusing (no pun intended) on some specific portion of a larger scene. I’ve read this advice numerous times before but I’ve never seen this concept illustrated so here’s my attempt to do just that!

I’ve selected three different examples where I’ve come away with some telephoto photos. For each example, I also have some wide angle shots which will provide some overall context. Let’s start with a photo I took a couple years ago on my first trip to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. This waterfall is located along the Johnson Canyon trail and is situated a bit downstream of the Upper Falls:
Wide angle view of waterfall in Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada
This photo is taken at a 24mm focal length (on an APS-C sensor) and a photo that can stand on its own merits. This shot is actually the first one I took when I came upon this scene. As I’m prone to do, however, I sit down and study the scene in front of me. Eventually, I was struck by the complementing colors of the rock and long exposure trails of the white water. Through some iterations, I eventually came across my final scene:
Tighter shot using my telephoto. Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada
Now let’s look at the original scene with a rough overlay of the area that the telephoto shot covers:
Wide angle view of waterfall in Johnson Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada. Approximate telephoto shot extent is shown in red
Next up is photo which has been one of my most popular. It was taken one spring at the Mount Baker Ski Area in the North Cascades of Washington State. As you can see, I started out with a wide angle shot of this weathered snag with Mount Shuksan in the background. On the right hand side in the background is a peak which has the local name of Hemispheres:
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This photo was taken around 11am and the sun was still rising in the sky. The slopes of Hemispheres attract many backcountry skiers and snowboarders and, in this light, you can see why. The slopes are full of rollovers and undulations. Eventually, I was attracted to one small patch of trees and the combination of light and shadows at the transition to a steeper section of slope. The final scene was this:
Tighter shot of Hemispheres using my telephoto. Mount Baker Ski Area
Once again, let’s look at the overall scene along with an overlay highlighting the telephoto shot’s extent:
Hemispheres from the Mount Baker Ski Area. Red highlight approximates the telephoto shot's extent

My last example also comes from the Mount Baker Ski Area vicinity. Last spring, I hiked into an overview of the White Salmon Creek valley and Mount Shuksan. I created this panorama and converted it to black and white:
Mount Shuksan and White Salmon Creek valley panorama

Would you believe I got two additional photos out of the area represented by that panorama? Let’s look at the two additional shots:
Shuksan Arm telephoto shot
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Finally, let’s look at the panorama one more time along with the overlays for the two telephoto shots:
Mount Shuksan and White Salmon Creek valley panorama. Red extents approximate the two telephoto compositions
So there are three examples of a “wide” landscape scene hiding additional compositions in plain sight. The only thing missing is your vision and your telephoto lens. The key is being able to recognize when a scene in front of you has that depth and finer details and that’s something that I believe you’ll develop with time. Hopefully this post has shed some more light on the concept of using telephoto lenses in landscape photography!

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